IMAGINE the University of the Future: a place where teaching, research and innovation equally contribute to a brighter future for students, graduates, researchers and the wider community; where inclusion and excellence are equally important; where we apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to move towards deeper cooperation, and where pooling resources, courses, data and infra-structure is the new norm and where we share the same goal: a sustainable planet.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, higher education institutions showed their flexibility and how much they could contribute. Not only did they switch to online provision almost overnight, but they joined forces in fighting COVID-19: through research on vaccines; through civic engagement by students and staff; and by providing support for students.
Once we had moved beyond the first emergency response phase, we focused on the transformation of our higher education institutions. COVID-19 has both speeded up digital transformation within higher education and highlighted an urgent need for deeper cooperation between higher education institutions, as well as between them and their surrounding innovation ecosystems. We need to do more to invest in the “knowledge square”, linking the knowledge triangle – education, research and innovation – with the service mission to society that universities have. The potential is there to do more, to make the changes that will further improve learning, teaching, research and innovation, increase their impact and empower future generations to build resilient, inclusive and sustainable societies.
The European Commission is supporting higher education systems across Europe to come out of the crisis stronger and more connected than ever before. Together with the wider higher education and research communities, we are shaping a vision for the universities of the future. For this, we will build on the Erasmus+ European Universities, which are testbeds for the universities of the future. Our objective is to support the higher education sector in becoming inter-connected, innovative, inclusive and digital. For this, we will encourage deeper and inter-disciplinary cooperation between universities across the EU, with more and better mobility, quality assurance, governance and financing.
Linked to this, we will co-develop a European degree and work on the modernisation of quality assurance systems. And we will examine the feasibility of a European statute for European Universities. For all this to become possible, we need the commitment of Member States to remove the last barriers that still prevent deeper cooperation for European Universities and equivalent alliances.
Europe’s universities should not only become more interconnected geographically; they should also embrace the idea of intergenerational campuses. In today’s rapidly changing society, providing an attractive offer for lifelong learning at all ages should become an essential task of higher education. It must take shape through a variety of educational modalities, including a greater uptake of micro-credentials for which we are developing a European approach.
“Micro-credentials are awarded after the com-pletion of short courses or modules and proper assessment of the com-petences acquired. They can help people at any stage of their careers to gain knowledge, skills and competences in all fields.”
To help prepare our education systems for the digital age, we renewed the Digital Education Action Plan in September. While much has been achieved over the last decade, we can and must do even more over the next one to keep people at the heart of digital transformation and deliver more opportunities for all. The new Action Plan is a key instrument in the COVID-19 recovery process, taking into consideration the lessons learnt from the crisis and reflecting the long-term vision for European digital education.
The crisis presents many challenges, but it also creates opportunities for us to cast a critical eye over how higher education is now and how we would like it to be in the future. I look forward to working with all of our higher education community as we work together to imagine – and create – the Universities of the future.
Mariya Gabriel is the European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth. Under her leadership, the new Horizon Europe, Erasmus+, and the cultural strand of Creative Europe programmes (2021-2027) will be defined and implemented. She was Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society from 2017 to 2019. She proposed the new Digital Europe programme, worked on EU Strategy on AI, disinformation online, cybersecurity and launched the EuroHPC strategy. She has been elected to the European Parliament in 2009, 2014 and 2019. Mariya Gabriel is Vice-President of the European People’s Party and Vice-President of EPP Women.